After architecture: Success stories of leaving the discipline


For some time I have planned to post this.  I had almost forgot when an old friend emailed me Andrew Maynard's article “Work/life/work balance” reminding me to share my choice. Choice #2

I would have posted this in the the most epic and insightful threads here on Archinect:

but, I thought it more appropriate to start a new one that collected the stories of those who have left the profession and have something positive to share for others weighing their options.  I apologize if there is already a thread like this somewhere in the rich history of Archinect that I am overlooking.

I started with architecture very young.  I had my first architecture job at 16.  I worked through the rest of high school part-time unpaid.  I have worked for firms S/M/L, unknown to highly regarded, on projects small and large.  I attended a respectable undergraduate architecture program.  After 6 years of professional practice, I was accepted into one of the Ivy's where I received a masters degree.  I have taught/co-taught both undergraduate and graduate studios and seminars.  I have participated in competitions, publications, and conferences.  I have done work that has spanned architecture, landscape, and urban issues.  I never got licensed.

While architecture both professionally and academically fulfilled my creative and intellectual impulses, it never made me happy.  It was like going out with the guy or girl that lights your fire, but is no good for you.  I punished myself with architecture.  But, I continued to tell myself the story that "I was an architect" and that "I was born to do this".  Too many 'I's was my problem to begin with.  The economic viability of the profession and the petty games that go on in academia were hard to stomach as soon as I began taking a hard look in the mirror.  These structural problems though are better detailed in Andrew's article and in the previous thread mentioned above.  For years, these issues did not register because I was too caught up in the many flavors of fantasy perpetuated by weak individuals like myself.  Similar to Wall Street, I kept playing drunk. Finally, after lost years, lost health, and almost losing my family, I made the best "intervention" of my career (sorry, couldn't help but use bad architecture jargon here :) ).  I stopped doing architecture.

Thankfully, I have always been good with computers. I learned to code at a young age. While I was never a form wizard as an architect (one redeeming quality looking back), I did do a lot of web stuff on the side.  Drawing upon this, I began picking up work as a freelancer designing web and mobile apps.  This bought me time and mental space to dive deeper into programming and hone my developer chops.  For the last two years I have tirelessly worked through many tutorials, attended seminars and coding events, and worked with other programmers on open-source projects.

I am now almost 34 and thankfully have reasonable health, a newly assembled network, and a lot of support and luck.  Leaving architecture was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family. I feel like I am out of jail with a second chance. Not a day goes by where I don't think wow "I get to be this person." "I get to live this life".  Now, I get creative and professional fulfillment from my work without any of the weirdness or bullshit.  I have time and energy for my family and extracurricular activities.  And, oh yes, I make 2.5x what I used to make as a Job Captain/Project Manager :)

For those of you have a similarly unhealthy relationship to architecture or are just tired of the profession, DO IT!  You will not be sorry. You owe it to the world to align your passions rightly.  Your skills are very transferable. You will need to take the hard work ethic that you already have and combine it with working smarter (architects are not taught to work smart). A bit of distance from the echo chamber will do wonders.  You will begin interfacing with a lot of smart people whose identities and importance were only on the periphery of your consciousness.  You will learn what real "agency" is. Your head will emerge out of your ass! As time and distance grows things will get easier.  A tightly wound ball with lots of knots requires patience to unwind.

If you too have made a career change, and by a twist of fate find yourself at this forum reading this please leave your story.  We owe it to the young folks who face the hardest economic times to understand that there are a variety of paths out of architecture.

May 17, 12 12:31 am

Sometimes, just a job change will make a big improvement in one's life. 

Some folks may want to leave the field altogether; that's fine.  Others may not want to toss the "baby" of the field they enjoy with the "bathwater" of a bad job within it.

May 17, 12 11:13 am

Seeing that there are far too many graduates then actual jobs in architecture it is only natural to try to expand on our career opportunities. And I don't think it should be looked down upon.

If anything I think architecture students should be taught and prepared early on in school to accept the fact that they may not be architects, and that there is nothing wrong with that. I do think our skills can be easily transferable to other careers.  

Anyways my cousin studied architecture, and only worked for 2 years before he quit his job and started flipping houses. He is now an infill design developer and makes far more money then an architect. Furthermore his work is pretty good, better then most architects up in Canada (he lives in Canada). So I guess that's one example.

May 17, 12 12:27 pm

Flipping houses in Canada is about to meet a very ugly end in about 12-18 months.

Here is a great blog taking a snapshot just before the innevitable collapse.

May 17, 12 12:46 pm

Rusty, the post I wrote was 5 or 6 years age. Now my cousin´s business expanded and he is developing 5-10 story apartment buildings (he is not interested in making larger projects, he rather focus on quality). He has yet to encounter this "ugly end" you described- rather he seems to be doing better every year.


He finished flipping houses in Canada 2 years ago....he is now finishing building a infill/low rise housing development. He already made a lot off of this. 

BTW thanks for the genius news flash that the housing market is over-inflated. I am sure anyone in the business with half a brain is aware. 

May 17, 12 1:28 pm

"BTW thanks for the genius news flash that the housing market is over-inflated. I am sure anyone in the business with half a brain is aware."

Oh, fuck off. The bubble nearly destroyed America. Plenty of geniuses saw that one coming as well, and said "How do I cash in on this?", thus making the problem twice as bad. But I'm sure Canadian geniuses are at least 40% more genius than Yanks and will resolve this tactfully over a pint of maple syrup.

May 17, 12 1:46 pm
Justin Turdo

Depends where in Canada... right now in Windsor, ON its a buyers market! 

May 17, 12 2:10 pm

not Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. His developments are in Ottawa. Yes parts of the city are a bit over inflated. But the market in Ottawa is nowhere near the level of other major Canadian cities. 

I guess he could do a giant 30 story nasty condo- but he does urban infill housing that does not exceed 4 or 5 stories, therefore adding density without causing a big rupture in the existing urban fabric. Or maybe he concentrates on those developments because due to banking regulations in Canada he could never get a gross american style loan from the bank.

In any case it is an alternative example to architecture that mebeyou asked for in the first  place.

May 17, 12 2:35 pm

encouraging fact is that at 80s recession many architects started own business -

it was hard to get employed or compensation was very low

May 17, 12 3:56 pm

I find myself agreeing with archinect. Infact doing something like that is my dream.

I've already left architecture after only six months in a firm and about 18 months of unemployment.

Construction management has taught me a lot and feels far more rewarding. I'm also trying to assist a local developer in finding properties. It's amazing how just having sketchup skills is worth its weight in gold to someone that wants to do simple infill developments.

A few months ago I was on this forum complaining about how I'm feeling out of luck with job prospects but now things are looking up since making the switch.

May 17, 12 6:15 pm

In architecture, there is the traditional path and then there is every other possible path. I haven't strictly worked as a full time architect for 8 years, but I have designed buildings and done pretty much everything else one can do in and around architecture.

All of these decisions, actions and experiences are coalescing into the path I am now on. I consider the last 10 years since graduating as my own self-guided apprenticeship, and finally getting to where I want to be.

May 17, 12 7:43 pm

"You will learn what real "agency" is. Your head will emerge out of your ass!"

I spent a lot of time joking about the B.S. technical lingo of architecture in school, but this is where it comes back to bite us all. There are a lot of people who would like us to believe that there's a universal technical lingo to architecture that they somehow picked up when we weren't looking. Sometimes this person will be your boss, or your professor if you're still in school. They will use your supposed lack of amorphous design ideology to justify paying you less, or expecting you to work overtime, or otherwise valuing your good work at less than it's work to get you to produce more of it for less.

Don't listen to them. Respect yourself. Whether you stay in the profession or look elsewhere, respect yourself. You didn't make it this far without being highly competent at any number of things. Don't sell that for less than it's worth.

May 17, 12 10:38 pm

Thanks for this arcticle. I read it a few years back when I decided to quit too. Eventually I didn't completely, but I changed my approach to work overall, and am now freelancing for enough money to survive without problems while working some 3/5 of the normal contracted time. I plan to retire within 10years (made a savings plan). 

Not a day goes by that I think - I could be some sad senior architect by now, and work weekends. I am so happy that I drew the line. 

May 7, 15 3:46 pm

But I'm sure Canadian geniuses are at least 40% more genius than Yanks and will resolve this tactfully over a pint of maple syrup.

Actually, because of the financial crisis- Canadian genius is almost on par with American genius, 1:1


Don't listen to them. Respect yourself. Whether you stay in the profession or look elsewhere, respect yourself. You didn't make it this far without being highly competent at any number of things. Don't sell that for less than it's worth.

Good Advice...

May 7, 15 9:22 pm

ok so i almost never comment on articles i read and am not a horoscope reader but fuck me the stars have aligned or some shit because reading this was as if the universe decided it was time for me to stop being a bitch and just do it. Why do i say this? Well because :

1. Its early morning and i have a project review in 2 hours

2.ive been laying here contemplating should i go or just simply not show up, now, or ever again

3.for a solid year, month off month on, ive been rethinking studying architecture, its like being in a relationahip with someone who isnt a good match for you, and you know that sibconsciously, but your mind is telling you 'give it a chance'  'get to know each other better a spark will happen' 'oh but this person has this this and that good' - i caught myself thinking up good things about Arh for a shred of motivation

4.arh requires a lot of time and energy but doesnt compensate financially for it, and thats a fact, so you really gotta love the profession or be a masochist

5.and the reason i decided to comment was the moment i read you got into coding :)

I love computers and these past few months i discovered web development (and webdesign). Never have i ever felt a connection with something as i have with this. Its something im actually interested in and it also doesnt take 6819910 years to learn and get a job + pays well.

So, realizing the comment got out of hand (tends to happen when im talking about something thats stuck in my head all day every day) - ive decided to man up, stop being a pussy and quit this lifesucking major.

(i expect a week of regretting this decision followed by a week of job hunting followed by a life of 'thank god i did that!')


Dec 28, 17 2:36 am

Tbf, the prospects of computer science are far brighter than this. Good luck with whatever your decision you opt for!


I wish I had done what you did.

Good day, I too I'm facing the same predicament. I graduated from school almost eight years ago. I'm not registered in fact it has been difficult for me to get registered. In first five years, it was hard to me to get full time work, if I was lucky, I only got 2-5 months. I did freelance work. Until 2015 I went to Trinidad to work, and came back after five months, I was let go. Then I went to work for another firm, and that didn't go so well either. So now for past year and two months I've been doiNg mainly admin work. Honestly, I am nervous to apply to other places because of my last two experiences, and I've become pretty discontent with the profession. And honestly, I can't tell it to other persons in my field because you can't. You're not supposed to. There are times I wish I never went to Masters, I should have explored more what my interests are and grow on them. But I'm 34 years old and it's way too late. 

May 25, 18 5:36 pm

What a horrible attitude, cause Its never too late.

First time I'm sharing my thoughts on a blog and didn't expect someone to respond. Especially with a comment like that

You seem to be a fast learner.


34 years a way too late lol. At this rate we should all be dead...


It's never too late. Also, architecture is an extremely versatile degree you should have many options if your core design skills are there.

How dare you comment on her 1st post like that. Shame on you.
May 26, 18 1:43 am

Well it's seems like ages since I first stumbled upon your article. First of all I need to thank you for writing it. Every sentence is like a cold shower for an architect who's been in the echo chamber for too long. 

I remember when I first read it. It was fresh, it was smart and it was so... obvious! I think so many people can relate to what you wrote here, you are literally speaking for them. 

Fast forward, today I run my own business and live in the Caribbean. How much of that was influenced by your article here? Very, very much. 

I come back occasionally and read it again and again. Not only is it very well written and I just enjoy it. Not only is the photo you added so inspiring I saved it and also come back to it every year or so. It's that this article isn't about architecture. It's about life in general. It's about rethinking your path and actions. Looking at the big picture. "Aligning your passions rightly", as you beautifully put it. 

Funny enough, architecture wasn't even my first choice. I always had the hots for psychology. It's hard to think what "would be, if...", because everything we experience - especially the hard times - make us who we are. I never chose psychology for my studies, as it didn't look like I'd make a living out of it. Architecture seemed a "reasonable" choice. And yet here I am, working partially as some kind of psychologist. With none of professional training. But tons of success and happy clients who've changed their lives. It's gotten to me yesterday, when a... trained and experienced psychologist called me for consulting. An "expert" thinks I am an even bigger expert. On life choices, and job quitting, at least... 

Well, I can only say "I learned from the best", among which was you, dear author. of this article. 

One phrase stayed engraved in my mind when I first read it: "Not a day goes by where I don't think wow "I get to be this person." "I get to live this life"". I decided from then on - I will do everything to one day be able to say it too. 

And I've been able to say it for a few years now. What a journey! 

Thank you again!

May 26, 18 6:50 am

Architectural skills do not transfer too well if you are in your 50's or beyond, even if you are completely up on all the latest technology! beware!  Do it early in life or you may become "stuck" in second gear, and be eternally unhappy with your architectural career! 

If you leave when you are under 40, there will be few penalties to pay, but as one of the respondents said, "it's never too late to change from Architecture", to which I will add, true, but the personal sacrifice needed to start over after age 50 is amazingly huge!

Jun 26, 18 3:02 pm

how old are you?




and you left before 40 or just stuck in 2nd gear?


Both. I tried, I really tried. I went out and got trained-up with expensive, fancy new training in Management (Top ten MBA), but never succeeded in leaving Architecture permanently. So, I am still in second gear, unbelievable to a Millennial, but "true".


I'm not a millenial, you should ask before assuming.


My apologies!.....How old are you?


I wouldn’t kick yourself about it Asiabeat. It’s tough to acquire so much knowledge on a subject and not think “this has to be valuable if I just tweak it or stay a little longer...”

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